[Blog] The importance of carers

Rabbi Roberta Harris-Eckstein
13 June 2019

‘Carers’ – what an interesting word.

Are we dealing with paid carers, family carers, people with caring hearts? Do we care for people or animals, the elderly or children, the disabled or the planet? These few categories rather leapt into my mind as I began to think what I would write in this piece.

This will also be covered in several ways at Liberal Judaism’s Day Celebration on Sunday June 23, which you can read more about here.

There are many different ways of caring and much to be said about each – never mind the fact that each ‘caree’ is an individual and needs to be treated as such.

As we are currently in the middle of Carers Week 2019, perhaps I should limit myself to the focus of this week, and that is the role of the unpaid carer who is usually, but certainly not always, a family member of the person who needs the care.

It is estimated that there are around 6.5 million people in the UK who are unpaid carers – husbands, wives, partners, children, other relatives and friends of the person who requires the care. And that care may take many different forms, according to whether the person is physically and/or mentally disabled, and may be any age from the very young (a spina bifida baby is one example of this) to the extremely elderly. When dealing with the elderly they may have many disabilities, of which one is quite likely to be some form of dementia.

In the 1990s I was the sole carer for three members of my family; each had their own illnesses, but all three had different sorts of dementia, which took quite separate forms in each. One was always looking for their life’s companion, who had been dead for years, another became quiet and sweet to everyone at all times and the third fought their way to the end of their life. Luckily for me, Jewish Care allocated me a single social worker for all three. So both of us knew the problems of dealing with each one separately and all three of them as a group. It made my life so much easier.

I was lucky: I have recently heard of a woman whose husband has mild dementia, and who is simultaneously caring for several other family members, each of whom has varied needs and calls on her constantly. Just liaising with social workers for the different individuals nearly drove her to exhaustion.

Exhaustion is what continually lurks for the conscientious unpaid carer – and just think for a moment about a school child who is caring for a sick parent, but has to remain fresh and attentive at school.

At least professional carers get to go home at the end of the day – just don’t get me started about their levels of pay and the conditions of their employment.

It is also worth remembering that the family carer may have to be available for 24 hours a day; there may be several trips to the toilet each night or perhaps it is necessary to hoist your caree out of bed and onto a commode and then back again to bed; the bed might need changing during the night; or you may have to tend to the person still in bed – which certainly means knowing how to lift and turn them without doing damage to oneself.

Or perhaps you may not need to do nights (or do them in addition to the nights) but instead work long days, washing, feeding, doing the laundry, shopping, taking your relative to hospital appointments or for lunch out or to a club – generally ensuring that they have the best of whatever their lives can provide them with.

And what of you? Are you tired? Are you in good health? Are you juggling the needs of paid work and your unpaid duties of care? Are you wishing you could spend more time with the rest of your family and friends? Do your children need more of your time and does your partner want to see more of you and getting a bit ratty when you can’t give him or her that time? Or perhaps you’d simply like a bit of down time for yourself and time is hard (or impossible) to find.

Carers Week 2019 aims to make the public more aware of what carers do and how they live their lives on a daily basis. It is also about telling both the public and carers themselves about the various support services and resources that are available.

When I was a carer I used to belong to the local Carers Trust and was so grateful for all the ways they were able to help me, from carers’ coffee mornings, so we could get to know and support each other, to days out or ‘pampering’ days – manicures, facials, hair appointments etc.

If you are a carer, or have ever been one, or have a caring soul and wish to help others, then Carers Week 2019 is just the thing for you to become involved with and I recommend it highly.

For more details please visit https://www.carersweek.org/.

Rabbi Roberta Harris-Eckstein is part time rabbi of Eastbourne Liberal Jewish Community and is currently exploring the possibilities of working with several communities with the remit of caring for their older members.

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